Legal Issues In the News

Elder Financial Justice Clinic a Unique Resource for Illinois Seniors


My wife’s grandmother, we’ll call her Betty—as I was asked not to use real names—received a call last week from her grandson, who told her he was in jail.  He was talking very quietly, so Betty was having difficulty understanding him.  She said, “Michael, is that you?”  He assured her it was indeed Michael.  Michael said he had been driving with a few friends when he had been stopped by the police.  The officer searched his car and found drugs.  Michael told her the drugs were not his, but he had been in jail for the last 24 hours and would not be released unless he paid the $8,000 bail.  He needed her to send him the money right away, but he begged her not to tell his parents.  Betty told him she did not have the money immediately available, but she would try to figure out what to do.

Betty then hung up the phone and, contrary to Michael’s request, called Michael’s mother, Libby.  Libby called Michael’s cell phone and immediately asked him what jail he was in.  Michael, dumbfounded, said he was at work.  Michael knew nothing of the phone call Betty had received and he assured Libby that he was not and never has been in jail.  Libby and Betty quickly realized that the person on the other line had not been Michael, but someone trying to get money from Betty by pretending to be Betty’s grandson.  Betty almost became a victim of one of the most common financial scams perpetrated against senior citizens, the grandparent scam.

The grandparent scam is a form of elder financial exploitation, the most common form of elder abuse.  While scams get a great deal of media attention, elder financial exploitation can take many forms.  In fact, a large portion of elder financial exploitation is actually committed by family members, friends, or caretakers of seniors.  Contractor fraud, consumer fraud, mortgage fraud, and investment fraud are other common types of financial exploitation.

Seniors across the United States lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to financial exploitation – and it happens to seniors from all walks of life.  While people with dementia and memory loss are more susceptible to being exploited, many seniors without any impairment fall victim to fraud.  And as more and more baby boomers enter their golden years, incidents of financial exploitation are only going to increase. 

Thankfully, seniors in Illinois have a number of ways to make sure perpetrators of financial exploitation are held accountable.  Seniors or their advocates can call the police, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, or their county’s Adult Protective Services agency to report financial exploitation.

And Illinois seniors who have been victims of financial fraud have a unique resource available to them to recover lost money or property and prevent future financial exploitation.  In 2013, the University of Illinois College of Law started the Elder Financial Justice Clinic, the nation’s first law school clinic focused solely on elder financial exploitation. For full disclosure, I am the director of the clinic. The clinic provides free legal services to seniors who have been victims of financial fraud.  This assistance may include writing a demand letter on a senior’s behalf, filing a civil lawsuit against a perpetrator, obtaining an Order of Protection to prevent further abuse, or defending against attempts to defraud a senior through the legal system.   You can get more information about the clinic, including how to obtain our services, by visiting the University of Illinois College of Law’s website.

Even though Betty and I have talked many times about my work combating elder financial abuse, she almost became a victim herself.  There is no shame in falling victim to financial fraud, and thankfully there are resources like the Elder Financial Justice Clinic available to help if you do.   

I’m Matt Andres.